Produced by SilverKris for Singapore Management University Lee Kong Chian School of Business
With the busy New Year and Lunar New Year holiday season behind us, one thing is clear: luxury travel isn’t what it used to be. Whether it’s increasingly personalised digital profiling, a closer attention to mental wellness or all the perks of work from home (WFH), travellers in 2023 expect more. And hotels are working hard to catch up.
We speak to Tom Lou, Director of Luxury & Lifestyle at IHG Hotels and Resorts, about how hotels are approaching this new era of travel – and why getting an Executive MBA makes sense for even seasoned hotel leadership.
What’s different about luxury hospitality now that travel has reopened?
Hotels are an age-old business, and prior to the pandemic, digitalisation was not prioritised. The pandemic definitely accelerated this, and hotels are going through a culture shift. Old models are in transition. Not just in the way that consumers are looking at guest rooms virtually or doing their bookings digitally, but also the way consumers are travelling. The WFH lifestyle is a new thing that hotels are adapting to.
What would you say are the main trends in luxury travel in 2023?
The first is bleisure, or business meets leisure. In a post-pandemic world, a lot of people are adopting a hybrid work pattern. Expedia quotes that 76% of planned work trips are extended and some even cross into holiday-making. Hotels tailor their amenities to this market by ensuring a good work desk in your hotel room, a proper laptop setup, writing materials as well as coffee or tea at your disposal – all in the comfort of a nice hotel environment.
The second is wellness. Before the pandemic, wellness-centric travel was gaining popularity but Covid-19 definitely sped it up. Being cooped up at home affected people’s mental health. There is a growing desire to gain peace of mind, body and soul when one travels. Surveys have indicated that mindfulness and meditation getaways are getting more popular.
And of course, there’s sustainability. In other words: purpose-driven travel. There’s a rising number of travellers who go off the beaten track and prioritise environmentally friendly hotels and accommodations. Hotels accommodate this need by providing eco-friendly products along with their amenities, adopting organic food into their menus and supporting their local communities.
What are the new traveller expectations that hospitality leaders have to contend with?
The modern traveller now increasingly expects seamless, personalised and instant service. It’s all about convenience without compromising on quality. Luxury hotels are definitely trying to find that balance.
What innovations are needed to meet these new expectations?
It’s critical to manage guests’ expectations and understand their travel patterns so we can learn how to customise their experiences accordingly. Data analytics helps us there. Forward-thinking and express-service hotels are quicker in adopting digital services, but grand luxury hotels still have the dilemma of maintaining their service touchpoints. If everything is too digitalised, it compromises the human touch. Finally, even with borders reopening, restrictions still exist. A personal and current challenge of mine at my current role are the restrictions for the different market segments that we want to acquire.
Can you give an example of a property that’s pioneering post-pandemic luxury travel?
The Bawah Reserve, a private island resort in Indonesia’s Anambas Archipelago, offers wellbeing packages coupled with yoga classes, planned lunch and dinner according to your diet and meditation sessions during sunrise and sundown. They also support their community by purchasing seafood from the local fishermen, which they serve to guests at the hotel restaurant. A fun fact about this luxury resort: No trees were harmed in the building of this hotel. It was all hand-built, taking eight years to complete. In fact, the steps that lead to the restaurant are carved out from a rock.
You’ve worked in a few different regions – what are the regional differences in how hotels are adapting to new expectations?
In Singapore, the culture is “luxury meets convenience”, whereas in Hong Kong, it’s all about urgency. So understanding the culture of a particular region, embracing it and adapting to it are essential. On an aesthetic level, the adaptations are more visible and apparent. For example, Capella Singapore is lush and green because it’s built on an island and the interiors respect the fact that it’s a colonial building. By contrast, at the InterContinental Singapore at Bugis Junction, you’ll see the Baba and Nyonya influences with the Peranakan-inspired tiles and motifs in the hotel lobby.
In the middle of a successful career in luxury hospitality, you chose to do an EMBA at Singapore Management University. How has it enhanced your perspective of the luxury hospitality industry?
I was looking to challenge myself, and enhance skillsets in other areas such as innovation, economics and financial analysis. To progress to higher management in the luxury hospitality industry, these are the skillsets which are important to adopt. I went with SMU EMBA for its brand value and recognition, prestigious alumni and also its network. I had the pleasure of meeting new people in different stages of their careers, industries and backgrounds. I learned how countries such as Thailand, Spain and the United States do business, gaining a useful global perspective while also focusing on Asian insights.
For more information on the EMBA programme at Singapore Management University Lee Kong Chian School of Business, click here.